HUMBOLDT – Mike Taylor is a graduate of North Side who played football at UT Martin for Don McCleary.
He played football for the Indians and then-Pacers and credits how much he figured out about the game of football while playing for McCleary for his natural ability to effectively officiate the game.
“When I came out of high school, I thought I knew a lot about the game,” Taylor said on Friday while speaking at a meeting of the Humboldt Rotary Club with McCleary among those in attendance. “But Coach knew so much more about the game and taught us so much of that knowledge.
“He brought in Sid Gillman, who’s known as the innovator of the forward pass. That knowledge was priceless and so much help to me now.”
Taylor has been an official at the collegiate level for more than 20 years and is part of the Southeastern Conference’s crew. The list of games his friend, Floyd Flippin, named when introducing him to speak sounded like a list of games a fan might see during a marathon of games on ESPN Classic: The Bluegrass Miracle, the 2005 Orange Bowl between Southern Cal and Oklahoma that was the BCS national championship game, the last five games between Alabama and LSU, four SEC championship games including the Alabama-Georgia epic in 2012, more than 20 bowls and the 2013 Iron Bowl that will forever be known as Kick 6.
The latest game Taylor officiated was another history-maker as Oregon and Florida State played in the first-ever college football playoff game on New Year’s Day.
“It was a great experience and something special to say I was a part of,” Taylor said. “But as far as the experience of games like that, we’re out there focusing on officiating the game and doing our job and not so much the atmosphere and fans and everything else.”
Taylor said the job of an SEC official is one taken for the love of the game. There’s a lot more to the job than simply showing up for the game, donning the black and white stripes and grabbing a yellow flag on the way to the field.
The week of work starts on Sunday when the officials get their game film from the day before at home and have until Tuesday to go over it and see how each play is graded from the officiating standpoint. Officials receiver their assignment by Tuesday and will be on site for the game by Friday.
“Once we’re there, we’re in lockdown,” Taylor said.
Much like teams do for game preparation, the officiating crew will hunker down in their hotel room for four or five hours watching game film, which includes their own film from the week before along with film from the teams about what to expect. There will also be meetings on Friday and early Saturday with the coaches from both teams along with TV personnel about possible things to watch for.
The crew is in the stadium two hours prior to kickoff, and they have jurisdiction in the stadium an hour before gametime.
“So we can actually eject someone from the game an hour before it starts,” Taylor said.
Then there’s the thrill of the game. Taylor is a line judge and was voted best line judge in the SEC this season. He’s on one sideline or another in fairly frequent communication with one of the coaching staffs. Taylor had a few stories about interactions with coaches.
In general, Les Miles at LSU is laid back and might talk about anything in or outside football during the game. Nick Saban at Alabama is a coach officials don’t speak to unless spoken to. Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is a good guy that will let an official know if he disagrees with a call during the game but good to be around afterward.
“Les has asked me things like how my kids are doing during the game,” Taylor said. “And it’s not like Saban is a bad guy. He’s just focused on the task at hand and is very no-nonsense during the games.
“I like Butch Jones and think he will do well at Tennessee after a few years. What a lot of people don’t realize is how much Tennessee’s program lost over the period of a few years while a lot of other conference programs were on the rise. When you’re dropping while others are rising, that’s a lot of ground you’ve got to make up. Jones has made up some of that ground, but it will take time.”
There’s an official observer at the game taking notes on the crew. There are also personnel with the replay crew whose job is to be part of the communication with any television crews so they can communicate what’s going on after a specific play.
“Those guys have had to correct some TV crews,” Taylor said. “Sometimes they correct it, and sometimes they don’t.”
After the game, the officials get out of the stadium and back to the hotel. They meet with the observer to go over what went right and what went wrong in a debriefing meeting before getting some rest and getting home the following day to begin the process all over again.
“It’s a job we all take seriously and want to do well,” Taylor said. “But we need some young blood in the profession.
“I know no one goes to a football game to watch the refs, but a look around at a game around here on Friday nights will show you our guys here aren’t getting any younger. Anyone that wants to still be in the game and be a part of a team should look into getting into officiating. I’ve got some of my best friends in the world through working games with them.”
And the profession as a whole has its opportunities as well. If an official made it to the NFL, he or she would stand to make $200,000 a year. So there are incentives.
Brandon Shields is the sports editor of The Jackson Sun. Contact him at 425-9751 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or on Instagram at jsunsports.